Bob Dylan’s best songs – Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands #49

bobdylan-blondeonblonde-cover

Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel,
Writin’ “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” for you.
~”Sara” (Bob Dylan)

That song is an example of a song… it started out as just a little thing, Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, but I got carried away, somewhere along the line. I just sat down at a table and started writing. At the session itself. And I just got carried away with the whole thing… I just started writing and I couldn’t stop. After a period of time, I forgot what it was all about, and I started trying to get back to the beginning.
~Bob Dylan (to Jann Wenner Nov 1969)

This is the best song I’ve ever written.
~Bob Dylan (to Robert Shelton)

@ #49 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs. Recorded @ Columbia Music Row Studios – Nashville, Tennessee – February 16, 4-5.30 am.

Bob Dylan & Sara

Session list:

  1. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  2. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  3. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  4. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  5. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  6. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  7. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  8. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  9. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  10. I’ll Keep It With Mine
  11. Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands
  12. Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands
  13. Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands
  14. Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

Spotify:

Musicians on songs 11-14:

  • Bob Dylan (guitar, harmonica, vocal)
  • Charlie McCoy (guitar)
  • Wayne Moss (guitar)
  • Joe South (guitar, bass)
  • Al Kooper (organ)
  • Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano)
  • Kenneth Buttrey (drums)

Wikipedia:

Released May 16, 1966
Recorded February 16, 1966
Genre Folk rock
Length 11:22
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is a song by Bob Dylan. First released on the album Blonde on Blonde in 1966, the song lasts 11 minutes and 22 seconds, and occupied the whole of side four of the double album.

On February 15, the session began at 6 p.m., but Dylan simply sat in the studio working on his lyrics, while the musicians played cards, napped, and chatted. Finally, at 4 a.m., Dylan called the musicians in and outlined the structure of the song. Dylan counted off and the musicians fell in, as he attempted his epic composition, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. Drummer Kenny Buttrey recalled, “If you notice that record, that thing after like the second chorus starts building and building like crazy, and everybody’s just peaking it up ’cause we thought, Man, this is it…This is gonna be the last chorus and we’ve gotta put everything into it we can. And he played another harmonica solo and went back down to another verse and the dynamics had to drop back down to a verse kind of feel…After about ten minutes of this thing we’re cracking up at each other, at what we were doing. I mean, we peaked five minutes ago. Where do we go from here?” The finished song clocked in at 11 minutes, 23 seconds, and would occupy the entire fourth side of the album. Four takes of the song were completed, but were mainly rehearsals; take 2 is also interrupted.

sara lownds

Many critics have noted the similarity of ‘Lowlands’ to ‘Lownds’, the name of Dylan’s wife Sara, and Dylan biographer Robert Shelton wrote that “Sad Eyed Lady” was a “wedding song” for Sara Lownds, whom Dylan had married just three months earlier.

Lyrics

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?
With your pockets well protected at last
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass
Who among them do they think could carry you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace
And your basement clothes and your hollow face
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to impress you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this
But who among them really wants just to kiss you?
With your childhood flames on your midnight rug
And your Spanish manners and your mother’s drugs
And your cowboy mouth and your curfew plugs
Who among them do you think could resist you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide
To show you the dead angels that they used to hide
But why did they pick you to sympathize with their side?
Oh, how could they ever mistake you?
They wished you’d accepted the blame for the farm
But with the sea at your feet and the phony false alarm
And with the child of a hoodlum wrapped up in your arms
How could they ever, ever persuade you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheet-metal memory of Cannery Row
And your magazine-husband who one day just had to go
And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show
Who among them do you think would employ you?
Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold
And your saintlike face and your ghostlike soul
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

bob dylan and sara lownds

However, it was a song he occasionally liked to rehearse. There is a haltingly marvelous stab at it in Dylan’s 1977 movie, Renaldo and Clara, part of the lengthy “Woman in White” sequence. Derived from 1975 rehearsals with Rolling Thunder core musicians Scarlet Rivera, Rob Stoner, and Howie Wyeth, Dylan mixes up his lines, and slurs everything but the chorus, yet still seems on the verge of tapping into that wild mercury moment again.
~Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the air)

Check out:  Bob Dylan’s 200 best songs

Check Out: Bob Dylan recording sessions

References:

-Egil

15 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s best songs – Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands #49”

  1. The song cannot really be claimed by any one person, but rather an archetype of female power/sainthood/martyrdom. Certainly, there are elements of Sara Lownds in this figure – the magazine husband, the child and the basement clothes. See also the sexual yearning of Bob (instruments tend to get a mention when he is sexually thwarted – arabian drums here, trumpet in ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’) for this holy madonna as he tended to describe her around this time “where no man comes” (should he wait with increasingly bluer arabian drums?). Boy, did she make him wait! Clever technique to secure her man whereas everyone else, even “pure” folk queens, leapt upon him lustily, Nonetheless, there is an overarching and deeper figure at the heart of the song – almost a paean to womanhood – in the form of a campaigning crusading righteous female who won’t be cowed (“Oh, how could they ever mistake you?”), even in death (“how could they think that they could bury you/destroy you?”). The funereal dirge-like quality of the music and delivery have always pointed for me to the song being an eulogy of sorts.The final verse: “Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole with your holy medallion which your fingertips fold, and your saintlike face and your ghostlike soul. Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?” may well be the sad-eyed ladyobserving her funeral with Christ (who comes like a thief in the night) after being murdered by those “farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide to show you the dead angels that they used to hide” with her body laid out in her coffin with her rosary beads.

    1. I see Dylan as her “thief” (husband, who’s rep and standing has stolen a great part of her anonymity and privacy), and the parole she’s on as her marriage to an internationally beloved and spurned cultural icon. It’s gonna be a rough ride…and indeed it was. The theory that it is also a pean to a composite muse, or, as Willfred Mellers describes her, a “harpy,” is most valid. I like Dylan’s ’65 quote: “There are real people in my songs…that’s what makes them so scary. I wouldn’t write about anything I don’t really KNOW.” ~E aka MOD~

  2. I don’t see any connection with Sara all . It is a song written for a child that had lost her father. I know this because I was there and so was Bob. It touched him in such a way my crying “and your gentleness NOW!! which you can’t help but show”. I wanted my father back NOW!! But no one can bring anyone back from the dead . I hope this helps because I think of this song as my life and every time of hear it I feel me being played. He is a lovely man for this .Thank you Bob.. BTW of course I am not using my real name for this post it’s a fake. I just had to let some people know the truth. PS Lowlands and sea level Arizona I could give more away but you will have to just figure that out for yourself.

    1. Thanks “Layla Benson”,

      Well I must say I’ve read my fair share of opinions about “Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands”…. but nothing like this.

      I’m sorry but this just feels too “far out”…. for me. Maybe someone else reading this will “investigate” ?

      -Egil

    2. Not to bust balls, because as Bob has ALWAYS asserted, his lyrics can mean different things to different people. Whatever you hear is what it means, was his philosophy. However, he sings of writing it for Sara on DESIRE, and certain lyrics are just blatantly obvious give-aways…. “…and your magazine husband, who one day just had to go…” Indeed, Sara’s first husband, Victor Lowndes, WAS a managing editor of Playboy Magazine, did leave his wife, and as Sara actually worked as a professional Playboy Bunny; well, hard to dispute such passages as direct connections. There are a ton of them in the song. Either way, it was interesting reading your post, and I am thoroughly enjoying johannasvisions.com ~ Great, thought-provoking, and inspired web creation!~E aka MOD~

  3. When i bought that album back in 1966 i remember sticking my guitar pick thru the shrink-wrap, slitting it open and inhaling the smell of new vinyl. Man, do i miss that ritual today. I pulled both records out of their paper inner sleeves and, when i turned the second one over to side 2, there it was. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands…one song…the whole damn side. What was this going to be? A novel? I just stared at that label mesmerized, wondering, thinking of the possibilities. All the effects of just seeing that label and what it was doing to my head and heart. Look how that song affected a 13 year old kid. And i hadn’t even played it yet…

    1. I’m there, man…in the spirit of history and Dylanology, I put forth my experience listening to BLONDE while peaking on Purple Microdot, age 17. I could write a small book about those six or seven hours….staring at the cover, front and back, and the inside’s unfathomable black and whites….I had headphones on, and I could hear (or at least I believed I could) the most outrageous sounds, which I thought were BURIED in the mixes for people who had not had the “benefit” of ingesting the consciousness-expanding tab. With headphones, I wasn’t so much listening, as I felt I was INSIDE the songs themselves. I felt I was literally standing in the middle of that studio, surrounded by each and every individual instrument. At times, my mind could actually focus on each and every player’s contribution, SIMULTANEOUSLY! One particular moment that has stuck with me all these years, is listening intently, over and over, to OBVIOUSLY FIVE BELIEVERS. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed this, but if you listen very closely, there’s a couple of seconds toward the end of the last solo (I think) where someone blurts out a crazy, low, heavy bit of laughter. It sounds to me like “Hee-hee-hee-hee!” Something I had never noticed until that marathon appreciation session. Another smidgeon that slips by fast is the one and only time I believe Dylan has ever slipped in a vocal overdub (until SELF PORTRAIT); but not to replace any part of the main vocal (he did that later with “Idiot Wind” on the official BLOOD), but to ADD A SECOND VOICE!!! Listen to “I Want You.” Listen for the one time he sings his own harmony on “…I-want Yooooo…” Very strange, but I know it’s there….

      This was one of those seminal experiences one never ever forgets. It had more to do with the fact that I became a musician and songwriter than I can explain. But there were so many listenings to Dylan albums that I could label as seminal….perhaps that’s why his vocal breaks with a quick guffaw in the beginning of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” on the word “try.” He knows his performance will soon be twisting wigs and bending hearts and minds…..E aka MOD~

    2. FAB!! And what was your favorite song on the record at that time?

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